I’m sure a lot of you have witnessed, or even been a part of, conversations that at some point included a comment like, “You know pastor’s kids,” accompanied by a sigh, eye roll, or shake of the head. If not that, then the comment that goes something like, “I really thought PK so-and-so would know better…” At some point you have probably witnessed a comment born out of the age-old stigma that pastor’s kids are (at the least) problematic.
I know this isn’t a prevalent issue in all churches. In fact many work hard to make sure PKs don’t feel stigmatized or ostracized. But the stigma can still manifest itself in smaller, less obvious ways. The root of the problem many times is assumptions. And those assumptions can leave PKs feeling frustrated, devalued, unseen, and even unloved.
I wanted to write on this issue because I have been a PK all my life. And to be totally honest, there were times I loved it and times I hated it. Most of the time I remember just wanting to be treated like a normal student. If I could simply blend into the group instead of being called out frequently, if I could just be treated like everyone else instead of being held to some unspoken expectation, I would have the opportunity to experience church like everyone else.
There will undoubtedly come a time when you will have at least one pastor’s child in your ministry. And you will have the opportunity to either love them well, or interact with them through assumptions, without ever truly getting to know them. The choice is yours.
In this post I’m sharing some basic tips that have been born out of my personal experience and observations, both as a student and leader in different youth ministries. I realize everyone’s experience is different, so if you haven’t found yourself making any of these assumptions, I applaud and sincerely thank you. Regardless of where you feel like you fall, however, I encourage you to keep reading.
The important thing to remember is each student, PK or not, is unique and will come to your ministry with different life experiences and needs. Checking your expectations and assumptions–and how they manifest in your responses and treatment of students–will help lay the groundwork for interacting with students well.
1. Take the time to get to know the person behind the label. This is the first and best thing you can do when ministering to pastor’s kids. Get to know them. Just them. Once you form a personal relationship, you will be better equipped to speak into their life as someone who knows them, not as someone who knows their parents. This will also help you in understanding their giftings and passions.
Youth leaders can sometimes assume PKs are or should be leaders in the group based on who their parents are, or the platform they seemingly have. And sometimes that is exactly where PKs are gifted–in leadership. But the only way to truly know this is to get to know the student personally.
2. Don’t treat PKs differently or hold them to a different standard than other students (unless they have been knowingly placed in a leadership position they have accepted). If you find yourself treating a PK differently than you would a non-PK student, ask yourself why you are doing this. If it’s simply because of who their parents are, or because of who you think they should be, you are leaving them out of the equation and it’s time to go back to the first point.
If you have gotten to know the PK and you want to encourage them to step into their gifting, make sure you have that conversation with them. If you see potential, meet with them to discuss what you see in them and how they could step into a leadership role. Make sure they agree to being a leader before making them one.
3. Don’t assume PKs are called to ministry. Just because a student is the child of a pastor does not mean they are called to ministry, or that they should be a leader within the group. Being a PK does not automatically qualify one for ministry or for leadership.
A PK’s potential should be recognized and cultivated just like any other student. If a pastor’s child has leadership qualities or another gift you notice, speak to that gift as you get to know him or her. But be aware, because of the nature of their parents’ leadership, some PKs may vehemently resist ministry involvement, regardless of their gifts. If this is the case, don’t try to force the issue. PKs need to know that they have the space, freedom, and acceptance to simply be themselves.
4. Don’t assume PKs are being discipled at home, or that they have an advanced knowledge of the Bible. It’s time for some hard truth. In some ministry contexts, pastors spend much more time caring for the church than their own family. Some pastors don’t know how to do discipleship with their children, and some simply choose not to. Never assume that a PK is getting discipleship or additional Biblical education at home.
With that said, please don’t “skip over” PKs for discipleship, Bible study, or mentoring just because their parent is a pastor. They may be in desperate need of care, attention, and guidance.
5. Don’t assume PKs have a great relationship with their parents or an excellent home life. Going along with the previous point, never make assumptions about a PK’s home life. Again, if a person in ministry does not have a good family- and church-life balance, they can end up neglecting their family, or at the very least, inadvertently sending a message to their family that they are less important than the rest of the church.
It’s important to be aware of this, and to allow this potential reality to shape how you treat and respond to PKs. If a PK is acting out, vying for attention, or shutting down, there may be more going on than their simply being “a typical pastor’s kid.” Some PKs also have to deal with stressors external to their family. Some have watched their parents walk through incredibly hard things. Until you have seen the full picture, don’t assume a PK is being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.
6. Don’t call a PK out in front of the group, simply because they are a PK. If you’re irritated with a PK, this can be an easy trigger response. If they’re not meeting your expectations–continually disengaging, talking during the lesson, or seemingly distracting others–it can be an easy gut reaction to call them out specifically in front of the whole group. And in some cases, this may be an appropriate response, but weigh it carefully. If you’re calling them out because they’re a PK and “should know better,” it’s time to reevaluate.
Would you or do you give more grace to a non-PK engaging in the same behavior? Are you more patient with the “other kids”? Are you trying to make a PK fit a preconceived notion you have about them? Again, if a PK hasn’t knowingly stepped into a leadership position, beware of treating them differently than the rest of the group. Besides being unfair, this sends a message that you are more compassionate and understanding toward other students, but you have no patience for the pastor’s child.
In the end, getting singled out, especially if this is a repeat occurrence, will help foster a spirit of mistrust, frustration, and bitterness. If you are noticing ongoing behavioral issues, that is something to handle on a more personal level. Show your students that you respect them, even in the midst of your frustrations, and give them the benefit of the doubt. (It may look like a PK disrupted the group, but you might have missed that someone else actually initiated the disruption.) This approach will go a lot farther in helping to build bridges of understanding between you and the PK.
7. Use discretion when deciding what to report back to a PK’s parents. If the issue involved a non-PK student, would you report it to that student’s parents? If not, then ask yourself if it really needs to be reported. Youth group has the potential feel like an unsafe place if small problems are made into bigger issues and subsequently reported to parents.
The main reason why I’m including this point is because I experienced this in high school, to an unnecessary level. It got to the point that leaders were being unkind to me, I would defend myself, and then my parents were told that I was acting out and I would get in trouble. I share this point with the purpose of encouraging you to weigh what is truly happening in the group, and what needs to be passed on to parents.
Also, please make sure you give PKs the forum to explain what happened–they need to have the space and ability to speak up and share their side of the story. Not having the ability to tell what I experienced made me feel like I had no voice in the accusations being made about me.
8. Don’t assume PKs are above sinning or making mistakes. You may think to yourself, I would never do that, I know everyone’s a sinner. But your words can indicate otherwise. Please don’t tell a PK things like, “I expected more of you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” Don’t set an invisible, unspoken bar that a fallen human being cannot reach. Don’t expect a PK–or any student for that matter–to always make the best decisions, respond appropriately, or behave perfectly. Even the “best” PKs make mistakes, trust me.
Remember to respond in love, and if you do expect more from a PK, find helpful, positive ways to encourage growth. Again, not because of who their parents are, but because of what you see in them as a person. It is worth the time and investment it will take to make a lasting, godly impact on the life of a pastor’s kid.